Vessel Reporting Requirements and the Biosecurity Act

​​​Important changes to Australia’s biosecurity system came into effect from 16 June 2016 with commencement of the Biosecurity Act 2015.

The Biosecurity Act 2015 (Biosecurity Act) replaced the Quarantine Act 1908, allowing for significant modernisation of the biosecurity system. The Biosecurity Act introduces new requirements that affect how the department manages the biosecurity risks associated with goods, people and conveyances entering Australia.

We aim to make it easy for you and your business to understand your obligations under the new laws. The information on this page outlines the key changes that affect vessel masters, shipping agents, port operators, crew and stevedores operating under the Biosecurity Act.

New legislation and requirements were applied to ballast water management in Australian waters after 8 September 2017. Refer to Ballast water to find out about the changes, and how they apply to international and domestic vessels travelling in Australia.

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Planning the voyage

Pre-arrival reporting

For most vessel masters and shipping agents the requirements for pre-arrival reporting remain largely the same as under the Quarantine Act 1908. The key differences for clients undertaking pre-arrival reporting after 16 June 2016 are that:

  • vessels are no longer classified on the basis of hull proper length
  • vessels are instead described as non-commercial vessels, or other
  • For non-commercial vessels, such as yachts, the report must be submitted at least 12 hours and up to 90 days before a vessel is estimated to arrive at its first port in Australian territory. This enables the vessel operator to provide information before departing the last port.

Entering Australian territory

The jurisdiction of the Biosecurity Act 2015 is the Australian territory which includes:

  • Australia
  • Christmas Island
  • the Cocos (Keeling) Islands
  • any external Territory
  • the airspace and the coastal sea of these areas which generally extends to 12 Nautical Miles (NM).

Goods and conveyances (vessels and aircraft) from overseas are automatically subject to biosecurity control once they enter Australian territory, usually by passing through the 12NM limit.

Conveyances and goods that are subject to biosecurity control are subject to assessment and management powers under the Biosecurity Act.

Arriving in Australia

Arriving at a First Point of Entry

Under the Biosecurity Act all vessels are required to arrive at a First Point of Entry, unless permission has been granted by the department in advance of the arrival at a non-first point of entry. This reflects previous ‘first ports’ arrangements under the Quarantine Act 1908.

First Points of Entry need to meet and maintain minimum standards with regard to facilities and processes required to manage biosecurity and human biosecurity risks.

Biosecurity entry points for unloading of specific goods and classes of vessels

Biosecurity entry points (BEPs) may be designated within the physical boundary of a First Point of Entry. A biosecurity entry point is a physical location which has the appropriate facilities required to address biosecurity risks or enable to the clearance of goods.

Vessels that are carrying certain types of goods may only be permitted to arrive and unload at a designated biosecurity entry point with a First Point of Entry. For example, vessels may only be able to unload live animals at a First Point of Entry that has facilities to manage the biosecurity risk associated with those animals and any accompanying goods.

A conveyance that is subject to biosecurity is required, unless prior approval has been obtained from the department, to arrive at a first point of entry. Conveyances that are carrying certain types of goods, e.g. live animals such as horses, may only be permitted to arrival at certain first point of entry, or within a specified area, known as a biosecurity entry point, within a first point.

The biosecurity entry point within a first point of entry is an area that has the appropriate arrangements in place to manage the biosecurity risk or enable the clearance of goods, for example a passenger aircraft being required to arrive at the international passenger terminal of an airport or seaport.

Exceptions to arriving at a First Point of Entry

An application can be made to arrive at a port or landing place that is not a First Point of Entry. These applications are assessed by the department on a case-by-case basis. Approval is not guaranteed and will depend on the biosecurity risk associated with the request. Additional costs may apply.

The process for applying to arrive at a non-First Point of Entry did not change with the introduction of the Biosecurity Act.

Applications for maritime arrivals will continue to be made through the department’s Maritime Arrivals System (MARS), or for Cruise vessels, through the Maritime Travellers Processing Committee (whole of government policy approach).

From 16 June 2016, new standing permissions were introduced to enable multiple entries to a non-First Point of Entry over a specified time period.

In line with current arrangements, applications can also be made to:

  • unload goods at a non-First Point of Entry
  • unload goods at a First Point of Entry not approved for that type of good.

Managing Ballast Water

The Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements explain how to comply with the requirements of the Biosecurity Act. Vessel masters who cannot comply with the requirements should phone the Maritime National Coordination Centre on 1300 004 605 for advice.

Unloading goods

Because all goods arriving from overseas are subject to biosecurity control, notice is required for all goods that are or are intended to be brought into and ‘unloaded’ in Australian territory. This is different from previous practice under the Quarantine Act 1908, where notice was required for proposed importation of goods, or within a certain period after the landing or receipt of the goods if no advance notice was given.

Reporting biosecurity incidents

The Biosecurity Act introduces a new requirement for clients to report biosecurity incidents. The person in charge of goods that are subject to biosecurity control, or a conveyance carrying such goods, must report any reportable biosecurity incident in relation to the goods, as soon as practicable.

Incidents must be reported whether or not the person is in Australian territory when they become aware of the biosecurity incident.

The events that are reportable biosecurity incidents are defined in the Biosecurity (Reportable Biosecurity Incidents) Determination 2016. They are incidents that have the potential to increase biosecurity risk.

Events relating to prohibited goods, conditionally non-prohibited goods or suspended goods include:

  • the goods in a container, a conveyance or other premises and are not as described on a manifest or an import permit relating to the goods
  • the goods in a container, a conveyance or other premises that is damaged and the goods are no longer secure
  • the goods have been lost or stolen
  • the goods have been destroyed in circumstances other than in compliance with a direction given by a biosecurity officer.

Events relating specifically to conditionally non-prohibited goods include:

  • a change to the intended use of conditionally non-prohibited goods.

Events relating to goods generally include:

  • the goods or a container, conveyance or premises in which the goods are being held, have been, or are likely to have been, exposed to contamination, infestation or infection from prohibited goods, conditionally non-prohibited goods or suspended goods
  • the goods are infested with a live pest, for example, an insect, invertebrate or other animal
  • biosecurity measures that have been required to be taken in relation to the goods have not been taken. For example, goods are to be left at a specified place for a specified period of time and have been moved; or a shipping container was directed to a wash bay for treatment and wasn’t. This applies even if it was not possible for the measures to be taken.

Assessing and managing biosecurity risk

Biosecurity officers have powers and options to assess and manage the level of biosecurity risk associated with goods and conveyances subject to biosecurity control including the power to:

  • require a person to answer questions in relation to the goods or conveyance
  • require a person to produce documents in relation to the goods or conveyance
  • give directions about the movement or non-movement of goods or a conveyance,
  • secure goods or conveyance
  • inspect the goods or conveyance.

Specific assessment and management powers relating to goods

In relation to the assessment and management of goods, a biosecurity officer can:

  • take samples
  • affix a biosecurity control notice
  • give an exposed goods order.

Specific assessment and management powers relating to a conveyance

A biosecurity officer can direct that a conveyance be moved to a specified place or be subject to other biosecurity measures.

Powers extend to conveyances that are exposed to another conveyance that is subject to biosecurity control, as they also become subject to biosecurity control as a result of this exposure.

More information on the assessment and management powers available under the Biosecurity Act.

Treatment and destruction of goods and conveyances

Where goods or conveyances require treatment that is likely to cause damage to those goods or conveyances, the biosecurity officer must request that the person in charge agree to treatment prior to undertaking the treatment. If the goods or conveyance cannot be effectively treated, then the biosecurity officer may issue a destruction order.

If the person in charge does not consent to treatment or destruction, the goods or conveyance may ultimately be forfeited to the Commonwealth.

There is a revised process for the treatment of high value goods and conveyances, to ensure the least adverse business and operational impact. High value has been defined in the regulation and the prescribed values are:

  • High-value conveyances are conveyances of a value greater than $999.99.
  • For goods other than live animals or animal reproductive material, high-value goods are goods of a value greater than:
    • $999 999.99 for goods to be treated in a manner likely to cause damage
    • $9 999.99 for goods that are to be destroyed.
  • For goods that are live animals or animal reproductive material, high-value goods are goods of a value greater than $9 999.99.

If the goods are high value, and treatment or destruction is required, the decision must be approved by the Director of Biosecurity or their delegate before taking action.

Decisions relating to high value goods and conveyances, as well as a range of other provisions of the Biosecurity Act, require officers to take certain factors, known as ‘principles’, into account. The aim of the principles is to ensure that any direction given or action undertaken is necessary, appropriate and adapted and does not impact on the person or their rights any more than is necessary to manage the level of biosecurity risk posed by the goods or conveyance.

A person can request review of a decision to give approval to destroy high value goods or a conveyance.

Interacting with installations

Offshore petroleum installations outside of 12NM are located outside of Australian territory for the purposes of the Biosecurity Act. While these installations are not subject to biosecurity control, vessels and aircraft (not subject to biosecurity control) that leave Australian territory and are exposed to the installations are subject to biosecurity control when returning to Australian territory. View the ‘Offshore Installations’ webpage for more information about how the Biosecurity Act affects offshore petroleum operators.

The department recognises that there are many low risk exposures between conveyances and installations. As a result, in certain circumstances where a conveyance meets certain conditions, the conveyance can be exempt from being subject to biosecurity control when returning to Australian territory. These exceptions are detailed in the Biosecurity (Exposed conveyances – exceptions from biosecurity control) Determination 2016.

Release from biosecurity control

Goods can be released from biosecurity control in a number of ways including:

  • verbally,
  • in writing,
  • electronically
  • for certain types of goods, automatically, when they leave certain control areas. For example, passengers’ goods will be released from biosecurity control when they leave the first point of entry. Cargo will generally be cleared electronically as it was under the Quarantine Act 1908.

Conveyances can be released from biosecurity control in the following ways:

  • notice given by a biosecurity officer or biosecurity industry participant
  • when a conveyance is destroyed
  • when the conveyance leaves Australian territory.

Compliance and enforcement

The department uses a differentiated approach to compliance management. This approach focuses on promoting voluntary compliance, and responding to non-compliance in a way that corresponds with the behaviours of those involved. Find out more about our approach t​o compliance and the specific compliance posture that was adopted from commencement to support existing clients to transition to the new laws.

Failure to comply with a requirement under the Biosecurity Act may result in penalties, including infringement notices, civil penalties or criminal prosecutions.​​

Last reviewed: 16 January 2020
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